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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

01 December 2003

Rebuilding Education Sector Key to Iraq's Rejoining World

State Dept. official helping to restore education ministry

By Kathryn McConnell
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Funding the rebuilding of Iraq's higher education sector is one of the most important ways donors can help the country rejoin the world's intellectual, economic, political and cultural communities, says a State Department official who in November returned to Iraq for his third tour of duty.

Jim Mollen, director of the Bureau of International Information Programs' U.S. Global Technology Corps, will spend the next six months helping to coordinate the rebuilding of Iraq's 20 major universities and more than 40 technical institutes, research centers and colleges. Almost all the institutions were ransacked or burned during and immediately after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Mollen is serving as special advisor to Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

In a recent meeting with a Washington File reporter, Mollen said the Education Ministry's immediate goal is to rebuild the physical infrastructure of Iraq's institutions of higher learning. That includes restoring academic buildings, classrooms, libraries and laboratories.

The ministry also wants to establish a nation-wide university information and computing infrastructure to help Iraq end its decades of "intellectual isolation." As a first step, Mollen is helping to coordinate the development of an information technology strategy for the ministry, he said.

The higher education goals include re-establishing academic visits and exchanges for faculty and students, Mollen said. Toward this end the State Department announced in October it will re-establish the Fulbright scholarship program in Iraq. The program last operated in the country in 1988.

Another objective is to develop Western-style graduate business schools and executive management education programs, Mollen said.

Mollen, who is the budget coordinator for the Coalition Provisional Authority's Office of Higher Education, said a funding proposal he helped develop "came out well" at the recent international Iraq reconstruction donors conference in Madrid. The proposal calls for a total of $1.21 billion in higher education spending over five years to help Iraq again achieve a position of "world prominence" in education, he said.

Mollen said he is helping to clarify the ministry's finances, adding that the ministry had been using an "archaic" accounting system. The ministry's finances also are in disarray because most of the contracts that had been associated with the ministry's funding under the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food program were burned after Saddam Hussein's fall, he said.

New scientific and technical books and journals are among higher education's priority needs, Mollen said. What books that were not stolen or destroyed following the fall of Saddam Hussein, are "outmoded" and "riddled with Ba'athist propaganda," according to the proposal.

Emphasizing the degree of isolation Iraq's university faculties experienced, the proposal adds that almost no university professors younger than 50 years old have ever visited a research laboratory outside of Iraq. "These faculty members have no base of contemporary experience or state of the art knowledge to pass on," it says.

Mollen said he is working to bring online digital video conferencing (DVC) capabilities to universities in Iraq so the country's students and faculties can "meet" their contemporaries in the United States to exchange information. As the security environment improves, the ministry also wants to attract talented foreign professors to teach in Iraq, he said.

The proposal says an "overwhelming priority" expressed by university professors and administrators is to establish partner relationships with academic departments in the United States and other countries.

Iraq's higher education ministry has approximately 45,000 employees working throughout the country. That number is expected to increase to 50,000 in 2004, Mollen said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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